Histories of Gettysburg often touch on Nov. 19, 1863, saying the President Abraham Lincoln spoke briefly and eloquently after a two-hour oration by Edward Everett.
Poor Everett. He was a famous man in his time - a scholar, statesman and minister. Born April 11, 1794, in Dorchester, Mass., Everett graduated from Harvard University in 1811 with highest honors. He went on to study divinity at Harvard and in Feb. 9, 1814, was installed as pastor of the Brattle Street Unitarian Church.
The next year he was appointed professor of Greek literature at Harvard. Later in his life he served as president of Harvard from 1846 to 1849.
In 1825 Everett was elected to Congress as a Whig and served five terms, after which he was elected governor of Massachusetts, serving in that capacity from 1836 to 1839. He succeeded Daniel Webster as secretary of state during Millard Fillmore's administration (1852-1853) and then served briefly in the Senate, from which he resigned after he became the target of the abolitionist movement, which attacked his willingness to tolerate slavery in the South as the cost of preserving the Union.
In 1860 Everett became a candidate for the vice presidency on the Constitutional Union Party ticket headed by John Bell of Tennessee. They were roundly defeated.
During the Civil War, Everett lectured widely, backing the war effort and Lincoln's re-election. He died on Jan. 15, 1865, in Boston.
The best collection of his writings is Edward Everett's Orations and Speeches on Several Occasions, four volumes published in 1868.
Here are excerpts including about a third of Everett's text at Gettysburg:
... As my eye ranges over the fields whose sods were so lately moistened by the blood of gallant and loyal men, I feel, as never before, how truly it was said of old that it is sweet and becoming to die for one's country. I feel, as never before, how justly, from the dawn of history to the present time, men have paid the homage of their gratitude and admiration to the memory of those who nobly sacrifice their lives, that their fellow-men may live in safety and in honor. And if this tribute were ever due, to whom could it be more justly paid than to those whose last resting-place we this day commend to the blessing of Heaven and of men? ...
Who that hears me has forgotten the thrill of joy that ran through the country on the Fourth of July - auspicious day for the glorious tidings, and rendered still more so by the simultaneous fall of Vicksburg - when the telegraph flashed through the land the assurance from the president of the United States that the Army of the Potomac, under General Meade, had again smitten the invader? ...
And now, friends, fellow-citizens, as we stand among these honored graves, the momentous question presents itself, Which of the two parties to the war is responsible for all this suffering, for this dreadful sacrifice of life - the lawful and constituted government of the United States, or the ambitious men who have rebelled against it? I say "rebelled" against it, although Earl Russell, the British secretary of state for foreign affairs, in his recent temperate and conciliatory speech in Scotland, seems to intimate that no prejudice ought to attach to that word, inasmuch as our English forefathers rebelled against Charles I and James II, and our American fathers rebelled against George III. These certainly are venerable precedents, but they prove only that it is just and proper to rebel against oppressive governments.
They do not prove that it was just and proper for the son of James II to rebel against George I, or his grandson Charles Edward to rebel against George II; nor, as it seems to me, ought these dynastic struggles, little better than family quarrels, to be compared with this monstrous conspiracy against the American Union.
These precedents do not prove that it was just and proper for the "disappointed great men" of the cotton-growing States to rebel against "the most beneficent government of which history gives us any account," as the vice president of the Confederacy, in November 1860, charged them with doing. They do not create a presumption even in favor of the disloyal slaveholders the South, who, living under a government of which Mr. Jefferson Davis, in the session of 1860-1861, said that it was "the best government ever instituted by man, unexceptionably administered, and under which the people have been prosperous beyond comparison with any other people whose career has been recorded in history," rebelled against it because their aspiring politicians, himself among the rest, were in danger of losing their monopoly of its offices. ...
`Definition of treason'